The step change needed to halve the disability employment gap

24 May 2016

First the good news, then the maths.

The good news is the government’s unequivocal commitment to halving the disability employment gap.

Now the maths.

To halve the gap means moving 1.2 million more disabled people in work. Halving the gap also means keeping people in work. 400,000 disabled people lose their job each year. By 2020, over a third of the workforce will be over fifty, and half of them will have a disability or impairment.

Like all really effective aspirational statements, the government’s pledge raises the bar hugely. It demands that we think in radical new ways. Like President Kennedy’s pledge in 1961 that Americans would land on the Moon by the end of the decade, the idea of halving the disability employment gap is do-able because, perhaps naively, we can imagine a world in which it is possible.

Many people in 1961 believed that a Moon landing was possible, but few understood the level of commitment and willingness to innovate that was needed to realise the goal in 1969. I believe we can, if we choose, get a million more people with disabilities into work and keep most of them there – but not without an almost unimaginable level of commitment and willingness to innovate on the part of government and the partners it chooses to work with.

At £130million a year, the Work and Health Programme will have around 20% of the combined resources of Work Programme and Work Choice, and will help upwards of perhaps 10,000 people a year to enter the workplace. It will set an important tone. But to reduce the disability employment gap by any significant measure will require a step change across half a dozen complementary areas of work.

First, we need a robust retention service that meets the needs of both employers and disabled employees in a much more proactive way than the Fit for Work Service and Access to Work can do.

Second, we should ensure that the strategic and commissioning weight of LEPs, City Deals and Growth Plans are used to maximise the opportunities of disabled people to enter local labour markets.

Third, Government should explore the potential for ‘disability leave’ as a way of more constructively managing the fluctuating conditions of some employees.

Fourth, employment support is not a statutory requirement for local authorities or CCGs, making it vital that government finds ways of incentivising local authorities to retain employment services for people in receipt of adult social care who are unlikely to gain access in large numbers to a capped Work and Health Programme.

Fifth, we need to get to grips with the transitions agenda.

Finally, we need to develop the Disability Confident initiative from a promising PR campaign into a national movement which is identifiably driving the agenda, holding to account and championing innovation.

We shouldn’t pretend this is a quick fix. But a challenge has been set. Now we need some brave decisions that will move us from a visionary slogan to a detailed roadmap.

Steve Hawkins is Chief Executive Officer at Pluss